We left off with Noah, the king-priest, as a failure in fulfilling the Adamic role and humanity continuing down the path of rebellion, sin and curses. The next character introduced in the narrative is Abram, and Yahweh, having proven the uselessness of the human partner, begins an entirely new covenant with him as the final Adamic representative – this makes Israel as a whole the new Adam.
Evidence for Abram as receiving the Adamic role is seen in the fact that the key Adamic phrases are found repeatedly in the Abram narrative: fruitfulness, blessedness, and being multiplied (Gen. 1:28; 12:2; 17:2, 6, 8; 22:16; 26:3; 26:24; 28:3; 35:1:47:27:48:3). Also, the five blessings promised to Abram (Gen. 12:2-3) are an invitation for the reader to contrast with the five curses uttered thus far in the narrative (3:14, 17; 4:11; 5:29; 9:25) – the curse shall be undone through the blessings promised to Abram.
First, Yahweh calls Abram out of Haran to go to a new land (Gen. 12). He gives Abram two commands and three promises that correspond to each command. The first command is to “go” to this new land – the corresponding promises are that Yahweh will bless Abram, give him a great name (be a king) and a nation. The second command is to “be a blessing (to others)” and Yahweh will bless those who bless Abram, curse the one who curses him, and everyone Abram represents will be blessed (Dr. Gentry argues that to be blessed “in Abraham” is to be blessed as Abram acts as the representative – just like Adam, and Jesus to come).
Abram takes God at his word and leaves Haran and immediately begins his Adamic priestly role by worshipping God via sacrifice (Gen. 12:8). On his journey he rescues Lot and meets two kings: Melchizedek and the king of Sodom. Having met both the king of righteousness and the king of sin Abram chooses to be like the priest-king Melchizedek and refuses to accept the spoils of war lest God’s glory be shamed by people attributing Abram’s blessing to Sodom’s losses rather than Yahweh’s gracious provision (Gen. 14:18-24). Since the text has presented Abram as a priest and now Yahweh has promised that he will be a king – indeed, he runs about beating up kings in battle and is treated as an equal by them – he is the new priest-king who desires to come in the order of Melchizedek.
Now that Abram has chosen rightly to be a priest-king like Melchizedek, Yahweh is willing to make a covenant with him (Gen. 15). This covenant takes the form of two parallel chiasms.
A – God reveals himself and makes promises (15:1)
B – Abram complains and asks a question (15:2-3)
A’ – God’s revelation and confirmation (15:4-6)
A – God reveals himself and makes promises (15:7)
B – Abram complains and asks a question (15:8)
A’ – God’s revelation and confirmation (15:9-21)
The structure of the text invites the reader to focus on both A’ sections of Yahweh’s response to Abram. In the first (v. 6) Abram’s belief in God is counted to him as righteousness, and in the second (v. 9-21) it is God alone who goes between the divided animals in order to demonstrate that Yahweh will single-handedly cause this covenant to be fulfilled. The significance of the animals being divided is found in the fact that those who walk through the animals are declaring that they should be slaughtered similarly if they fail to keep the covenant – God is promising self-destruction if this covenant is not kept. The parallel of God single-handedly completing the covenant and the alien righteousness that Abram receives should not be missed.
What follows this great covenant is the parallel account in chapter 17, which is structured in two ABCD groups that parallel each other. One might get the impression that Moses desired the key sections of Genesis to be easily memorable through parallels upon parallels upon parallels. However, before the parallel can be reviewed it must be noted that chapter 16 fits snugly between the dual covenant-making accounts as a demonstration of Abram’s continuing failure as proper representative of Yahweh. In Chapter 12 Abram is seen to be a liar who gives lame excuses and doesn’t trust Yahweh to deliver him, and in chapter 16 Abram tries to achieve God’s promised heir apart from God’s blessing. Thus, chapter 17 comes as both a parallel to 15 and a rebuke to Abram’s ungodly living.
Chapter 17 begins with Yahweh appearing before Abram and commanding him to “walk before me and be perfect, that I may uphold my covenant between me and you.” The emphasis here is that Abram must walk before God – go before him as a representative of Yahweh’s character – in order for this covenant to be brought to completion. This anticipates a perfect Israel who will bring the blessing to the nations.
The ABCD format is seen as follows:
A – Yahweh’s intention to conform his oath about progeny (17:1-2)
B – Abram falls on his face (17:3)
C – God promises descendants and the gift of land (17:4-8)
D – The sign of circumcision is given (17:9-14)
A’ – Yahweh’s intention to conform his oath about progeny (17:15-16)
B’ – Abram falls on his face (17:17-18)
C’ – God promises a son from Sarah (17:19-22)
D’ – The sign of circumcision practiced (17:23-27)
We see here that the covenant sign being mentioned is referring back to the covenant made in chapter 15, and thus it is the sign of the covenant that God alone will ensure is kept (since humans keep failing). It’s also relevant that Yahweh says “walk before me and be blameless so that I may uphold my covenant with you.” This term “uphold” comes from the Hebrew “heqim berit” that means to continue a covenant already initiated. So, chapter 15 and 17 act as the left and right speakers of a surround sound system and must be heard together in unison in order for the covenant to be properly understood.
The sign of circumcision was nothing new to the people of the day and was commonly practiced in Egypt. A few notes should be taken: First, Yahweh adds this to an existing relationship where the gentile Abram becomes the father of the household of faith before he is circumcised. Second, it was commonly understood that the king of Egypt was the son of God and thus was circumcised to demonstrate this fact. Third, priests in Egypt were circumcised as a demonstration that their lives are dedicated to their God. This means that circumcision is meant to be an outward sign to the receiver, his wife, and his parents (seeing as these are the only people groups who should be seeing this sign of circumcision) that he is wholly dedicated to his god. A very fitting sign for a covenant where the people are called to be holy – dedicated to Yahweh.
In chapter 18 God models for Abraham what it means for him to represent God on the earth: a transparent honest love. Yahweh reveals to Abram that He plans to wipe out the wicked and Abram begins to be a blessing to the nations by pleading with Yahweh for him to spare the town if only some righteous people are found in it. Through Abram’s intercession Lot and his daughters are pulled out and spared the judgment – a tiny taste of the blessing that Israel brings to the nations is given.
In chapter 22, which can be considered a test case for Abraham’s faith, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and Abraham complies. Yahweh restrains Abraham only after he has displayed what it means to be God’s representative: to love Him more than anything and at any cost. Yahweh responds to this proof-positive faith by expounding upon what He meant when He said that through Abram’s representation of others that they will be blessed – specifically, a single individual who will descend from Abraham will be the bringer of the blessing to the nations (22:18).
This covenant with Abraham can be summarized as the unstoppable promise that a singular descendant of Abraham will represent the nations and thus bring blessing to them, undoing the curses that rest upon them. Apart from this covenant, neither the Mosaic, Dueteronomic, Davidic, nor the New Covenant make any sense. Thus far we’ve seen many parallels: parallel verses, parallel structures, parallel chapters, and now parallel covenants – Adam and Noah paralleled and the covenants of Gen. 15 and 17 parallel, and this important pattern in Hebrew teaching has nowhere near come to an end. The next parallel covenant that will be seen is that of the Exodus and Deuteronomic covenants and their vital relevance in understanding the whole of redemptive history.
Additional note: I will not be completing this series for a few reasons, not the least of them the fact that this book is being incorporated into a much larger study of the Old Testament that will be appearing on this blog. My apologies to those who were looking forward for the rest of the chapters.